A voluntary land ownership registration scheme introduced by the Labour Government ten years ago has proved a major success with most land now on the books of the Land Registry.
The Land Registration Act 2002 was introduced when most land in England and Wales was not registered with coverage levels below 40% in North Yorkshire, Cumbria, Powys, Wiltshire and Dorset. In addition, Lincolnshire, Lancashire, Somerset, Norfolk and Suffolk were all below 50%.
That has now changed dramatically. As of 1 August 2012, Lancashire registration levels have risen to 83%. There have been large jumps in North Yorkshire (up from 44% to 81%), Norfolk (up from 37% to 81%). Somerset (up from 41% to 79%), Powys (up from 38% to 72%) and Gwynedd (up from 46% to 72%).
Although registration is not complete, with around a fifth of land in England and Wales still unrecorded, these latest figures are closing the gap on the question as to who Owns Britain. Back in 1874 the compilation by Local Government Boards of The Return of the Owners of Land proved an embarrassment to the handful of landowners who owned most of the country.
No similar study was undertaken until Kevin Cahill’s 2001 book Who Owns Britain completed a lifetime’s work and revealed that 189,000 people owned 88% of the land. The Duke of Westminster at Eaton Hall near Chester is a large landowner with over 130,000 acres. As some of the holdings are in central London then according to the Sunday Times Rich List for 2011 he is worth £7.35 bn and is the richest UK-born person in Britain.
Over the last decade the issue of land reform has been high on the political agenda in Scotland that has not been the case in England and Wales. Now, Caroline Lucas, the Green Party MP for Brighton Pavilion, has tabled a private member’s bill seeking Parliamentary support for research into “the merits of replacing the Council Tax and non-domestic rates in England with an annual levy on the unimproved vale of all land.”
A land value tax (LVT) was first promoted by American economist Henry George in 1879. It has been introduced in a number of countries including Russia and Estonia. Ireland appears to be currently wavering on its commitment to introduce LVT next year. In the UK the Liberal Democrats have a long-standing attachment.
Supporters believe LVT can prevent investment in unproductive property. In her speech to MPs Lucas said: “LVT encourages efficient and sustainable use of land, as owners of derelict land or properties that they have deliberately allowed to become run down pay the same as those who take care of their properties.”
The Brighton MP said the Valuation Office Agency should be able to assess the value of all land. With most land now registered such a task would now be considerably easier than a decade ago. Lucas’s bill is due a second reading in November.